Watching a calf being born first turned Tami Lambercht into a rancher. She grew up on a Washington fruit farm and studied nursing in college. Her parents sold their fruit operation, bought a ranch outside Wallowa, and transformed from apple growers to cattle ranchers in 2006. One chilly day in 2007, while contemplating life from a hill above her parent’s Wallowa ranch, Lambrecht witnessed a calf being born. “That was it for me,” she said, “Right then, I just knew I had to be a rancher.”
Today, Lambrecht is the cow boss on the Bar-B Ranch, a large spread with wintering grounds in Wallowa and Lostine, and summer range near Promise. She manages and calves out about 160 mother cows for Bar-B, keeps cattle of her own on her parent’s ranch, and helps her dad with his herd. Especially during calving season, her day starts early and ends late.
The Bar-B is an all-woman outfit, owned by Sandie Tillotson of Sandy, Utah. Tami manages the cows with the able assistance of Avey Van Doozer as the lone buckaroo. Van Doozer grew up on a small farm near Walla Walla, where her family raised goats, cows, and miniature horses. Once in Wallowa County, Van Doozer drifted from one small-town job to another, hayed with Dennis Isley, and worked at Tamarack Ranch before meeting Tami in Goebels’ store one day. “We talked, she hired me,” Van Doozer said. “It’s my dream job. I get up every morning excited to go to work, no matter what the weather, or what we are doing. Every day is different.”
Like most ranches in Wallowa County, Bar-B and Tami’s own herd are traditional cow-calf operations. They breed their mother cows in May. Calves arrive about 283 days (9.4 months) later in March. They are branded in May, allowing them to be identified should they stray from the herd. By June, when the cow-calf pairs are turned out on grass range, the calves are big and strong enough to hike follow their mothers the 10 to 20 miles necessary to reach summer pastures, and fend for themselves in a world where predators await. Then, as fall comes, cattle are driven back to the home place, where calves are weaned. Steers ship to feedlots, usually in the Boise area, along with heifers that will not be kept as replacement mother cows. Cows are fed all winter, and in March, the cycle begins all over again.
To prosper in an uncertain economy, most ranches have a specialty. For the Bar-B, it’s the bloodlines and quality of beef. “Our Angus cows are bred to Akaushi bulls,” Lambrecht said. “They’re a Japanese breed, similar to Wagyu, that produces tender, well-marbled beef.” The Bar-B works with HeartBrand Ranch of Flatonia, Texas that provides the bulls and semen, and then buys back the weaned calves. The prices are a bit higher, but there’s also more work required—each calf must be genetically tested to keep track of its breeding and ensure that its father was an Akaushi bull.
Genetic testing is done as part of the tagging and vaccination process when the calf is less than a day old. Like most cow-calf operations, The Bar-B keeps a written record of the day and if possible, the time, of each birth, and gives each newborn calf a shot of immunity-boosting supplements that help insure survival.
Along with the shot, the calf receives an ear tag with a number that allows Tami and Avey to easily identify it. It’s hard to recognize individual calves in a herd of mostly black cows. Ear tags are a necessity. At the Bar-B, each calf is also tattooed with an individual number that supplants the ear tag, and a sample of hair taken for a genetic record.